AEA Summer Program Promotes Inclusivity and Achievement in Economics for 45th Year

July 29, 2019 - Liz Schondelmayer

The American Economics Association Summer Program began in 1974 and is now concluding its 45th successful year. The program, which has been housed at Michigan State University for the last three years, prepares and inspires undergraduate students from underrepresented minority communities to pursue higher education and a career within the field of Economics.

Students in the program complete 12 credits and a research project over the course of 8 weeks, on top of taking field trips and hearing from accomplished economists. The program is designed to mimic that of a graduate-level program, exposing students to the coursework and tight schedule they can expect in Ph.D. program.

Program Director Dr. Lisa Cook, an associate professor within the Department of Economics and James Madison College (International Relations), hopes that this program will prepare students to pursue a Ph.D. in Economics.

“These courses are being taught at the advanced undergraduate or graduate level, preparing them so they don’t drop out once they open a graduate school textbook,” explained Dr. Cook. “This way, students who go on to further their education will be better equipped to complete their graduate programs.”

This year, 39 students attended, coming from all across the United States and Puerto Rico. Students were given the chance to explore some of Michigan’s best assets, including Lake Michigan and Detroit’s Eastern Market, and the Motown Museum. Students also had the opportunity to hear from professors and students at the University of Chicago. While classes were in session, students got the chance to hear from esteemed professors and professionals in the Economics field, including economists and research assistants  at the Federal Reserve.

Students in the program are expected to balance advanced coursework and research projects, which are presented at the end of the program. Even though it can be a lot for students to handle at times, Dr. Cook – who was a student in the program while it was housed at Stanford University in the early 1990’s – is avidly working to support students’ mental health.

“Being in a graduate-level program can be mentally exhausting,” noted Dr. Cook. “I can definitely empathize with that, and so we’ve taken that into account with the program’s structure. We even had therapy dogs visit the students the weekend before final exams.”

Aside from preparing students for a Ph.D. or a career in Economics, the program has an even deeper function: to inspire students from underrepresented minority communities to pursue economics.

According to Dr. Cook, the American Economics Association as well as the field of Economics in general struggles with inclusivity and diversity. “Many of these students don’t have the opportunity to learn from URM professors, so don’t know that pursuing a higher degree or a career in this field is something they can actually do.”

The program, which has been housed at MSU since 2016, will be held on campus for one more summer before the American Economic Association moves it  to another qualified university.

The American Economic Association Summer Program is a joint effort between Michigan State University and Western Michigan University. The program is supported by the American Economic Association and National Science Foundation, as well as other donors.

If you are interested in learning more about or participating in the American Economic Association Summer Program, find more information here or email Program Director Lisa Cook at